When awarded a spot-kick in their Europa League encounter in Seville against Real Betis last month, few anticipated the Celtic player stepping up would be full-back Josip Juranovic. The Croatian stuck the ball away so clinically in what, ultimately, proved a 4-3 loss that – following captain Callum McGregor’s saved effort in Celtic’s win over Ferencvaros a week ago – on Saturday Juranovic was allowed to double his conversion rate from 12-yards in emphatic fashion to seal a 2-0 victory at home to St Johnstone. It can be assumed Ange Postecoglou will leave the 26-year-old as the designated penalty taker should Celtic earn such an award when facing up to Hibs at Easter Road. If so, Juranovic will earn himself a rare Celtic distinction. Not since Roy Aitken back in 1985 has Celtic’s regular penalty taker been a defender.
How this development has unfolded illustrates the Celtic manager’s desire to take care of the details in preparing his team. “In the past at my first club [Dubrava, in the Croatian third tier] when I was starting out in football, I was the penalty taker,” said Juranovic, who joined Celtic in a £2.5million deal from Legia Warsaw at the end of the window, and is back in the team following a month sidelined with a hamstring problems. “After that though I became a right-back. I took maybe three at my old club and scored them. Against Real Betis, just before we travelled we had a training session, and the coach said to me that I was one of four players who would practice penalties. We shot three each, I scored all of mine, and the other players all missed one. So, because of that I am on penalties.”
Juranovic maintains he feels in “good shape” – how Celtic find themselves in that situation following four straight wins. Yet, he doesn’t deny switching to the left in the long-term injury absence of Greg Taylor, which allows Anthony Ralston to continue his parkling form at right-back, places him in role he doesn’t consider his best. Yet Postecoglou’s expectation his full-backs will come inside to become auxiliary midfielders is the basis of a Celtic approach Juranovic delights in for the ability to wrong-foot opponents.
“Whatever the manager says, that is where I will play, It doesn’t matter to me which position. I’m happy to be in the team, and I will help the team. I feel I can give more as a right-back, but when I am at left-back I feel that Tony and me play really well together. I like this system because I am always on the ball. I can go into the middle, I always have one player behind me, but I can also go up with Jota on the left side or with Liel Abada or Kyogo [Furuhashi] on the right. For instance, at left-back, I can go in as a No 10 and then David Turnbull will come and play as the left full-back at times. In the first game against Real Betis I could see the opposition players waving their hands and pointing to say ‘this guy is yours’ or ‘no, he’s yours’. They didn’t know where to go or which position to defend. It’s a really good system.”